Academy of Art University Students Use Augmented Reality to Benefit Local Neighborhood

Academy of Art University students recently presented their work using augmented reality to the Chief Innovation Officer of the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation. Their efforts, if adopted, will help make San Francisco's renowned Tenderloin District safer for residents.

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No matter your passion, Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California, has offered the most innovative training for careers in design, entertainment, fine arts, and liberal arts since 1929. Within these basic categories lie a wide variety of specializations, including options for designing video games, smartphone applications, and other interactive technology. Recently, AAU’s School of Game Development (GAM) has embraced concepts bridging the department’s ability to create interactive technology with other fields, including communications.

In fact, some Academy of Art University GAM students recently presented their work using augmented reality to the Chief Innovation Officer of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation. He toured the School of Game Development on November 28 to learn more about a new smartphone application called Tenderfeels. Their efforts, if adopted, will help make San Francisco’s renowned Tenderloin District safer for residents.

San Francisco’s Tenderloin District

Although bordered by affluent neighborhoods like Nob Hill and Downtown, San Francisco’s Tenderloin district has been described as ‘unsafe,’ ‘disgusting,’ and ‘a zoo.’ Approximately 25,000 people live within the quarter-square mile area. The neighborhood has the highest rate of poverty and violent crime in the city while also housing the greatest concentration of youth.

The Tenderloin District is rich in both seedy and fascinating history. It’s been a residential neighborhood since the Gold Rush and the entire neighborhood was destroyed by fires after the great earthquake of 1906. Shortly after, the Tenderloin district was rebuilt and filled with single room occupancy hotels. This affordable housing helped to usher in new immigrants and provide lodging for young couples and single people.

San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood is an ideal location to innovate and reimagine urban sustainability and the livability of a major American city. It is not only one of the most challenging neighborhoods in San Francisco, but also in America. Academy of Art University’s location in the heart of San Francisco gives our students unparalleled opportunities to use their artistic talents to contribute to refurbishing this classic locale.

How Does Tenderfeels Work?

Tenderfeels was created by a team of four AAU students who participated in an event sponsored by Tech in the Tenderloin along with the San Francisco Salvation Army Kroc Center. The goal of the event was to use augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) to find civic and social solutions specific to San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Academy of Art University School of Game Development students competed against students from schools such as Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, and Penn State University.

The Tenderfeels application uses AR to harvest real-time data from Tenderloin residents as they share their moods relating to their current surroundings. In an interview with Academy Art U News, a student on the team referenced the five emotional characters in the Pixar movie, “Inside Out.” Similar to these characters, residents using Tenderfeels can report in real time how they feel on each block within the Tenderloin district. The emotions range from ‘angry’ and ‘disgusted’ to ‘joyful’ and ‘happy.’

Other Tenderfeels app users can see the results in real time and see why a resident marked an area with a certain emotion. The overarching goal is to harvest this data and provide it to schools and government organizations who can use it to identify problem areas, with a view toward solving the issues revealed.

“It’s not Pokémon Go, but it’s actually taking on real-world, real life issues to try to make the city a better place. What’s done here can easily be extrapolated out to other cities,” said Steven Goodale, an instructor in AAU’s School of Game Development.

What is Augmented Reality?

With augmented reality (also called AR), graphics, sounds, and touch feedback are added into our natural world. Unlike virtual reality, which requires the user to inhabit an entirely virtual environment, augmented reality uses the existing natural environment and then overlays virtual information on top of it. Users of augmented reality “experience a new and improved world where virtual information is used as a tool to provide assistance in everyday activities.”

Whether students want to develop for AAA, mobile, or pioneer their own career path in indie development, AAU’s School of Game Development can teach the skills necessary to succeed in all areas of study including game design, programming, 3D modeling/texturing, concept art, UI/UX design, animation, rigging, visual effects, and emerging technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality.

Through interactive online courses or in the classroom setting, AAU’s talented faculty of active creatives lead students to embrace and build upon concepts that connect the department’s ability to create interactive technology with other fields, such as architecture, the arts, and even communications. Tenderfeels is a prime example of this collaboration.

Related: Jason Hope: Insights into Technology Development & the Internet of Things

UPDATE: 5/8/2018

Will Augmented Reality Be Able to Benefit Society?

Augmented Reality (AR) is a burgeoning new innovative technology promising to improve the world of human engagement. Augmented reality is quite new, and with all new technologies, the question arises, “Will it be a benefit or a boon to our society?” The answer can effectively be both, but there are many ways AR can benefit education and business in particular, traditionally the gateways for innovation.

When Pokémon Go hit the scene in 2016, users were guided remotely by the game to physical locations to find and catch animated Pokémon characters on the app. The app engaged with people all over the world. Business soon espied the benefits of participation and connected with the game to “host” different characters and items at their location. This drew people to their business to “catch Pokémon.” This may have been the first popular business-related use of an AR-related product.

But, it won’t be the last. According to Business Insider, Facebook is creating the next big augmented reality technology which will incorporate videos and interactive content. In fact, in Mark Zuckerberg’s 10-year strategic plan for Facebook, released in 2016, virtual and augmented reality technology will be embedded throughout the entire Facebook platform over the next 10 years.

Reality: Expanded

With augmented reality, sounds, graphics, and touch feedback are added into the natural world. Unlike virtual reality, in which the user inhabits an entirely virtual environment, augmented reality “uses the existing natural environment and then overlays virtual information on top of it.” Users of augmented reality “experience a new and improved world where virtual information is used as a tool to provide assistance in everyday activities.”

Augment, a leader in the AR for Business space, defines augmented reality as “a technology that layers computer-generated enhancements on top of an existing reality in order to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it.” Snapchat is another successful example of augmented reality. Snapchat uses “filters” as a form of overlaying a virtual layer on a person’s actual face in the application. This creates a unique augmented experience for the user which they can share with their online community through the Snapchat interface.

AR and Education

Augmented reality is evolving into one of the most widely adopted technologies in education and learning. Far from static learning by way of words and two-dimensional images on a page, students can learn about a particular topic or idea by interacting with a three-dimensional image and get involved with forms, objects, and environments in a digital interface. All this, very much in the same way they interact with the outside world. For example, in addition to reading a text, 3D video content can allow students to depict the way a teacher explained certain solutions, all on a handheld device.

Augmented reality helps learners learn faster, better, and in more creative ways by bringing new environments into students’ grasp. Traditional classrooms can enhance their instructional ability and the quality of learning, all while challenging students to interact with their world in positive ways. When students realize the power of AR, their creative energies are unleashed for the greater good. The millennial generation and generations since turn to digital media for creating social change. Therefore, inspiring their interest in the potential of VR is an important step.

A prime example is found at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California. Students in the School of Game Development recently presented their work using augmented reality to the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation. This official toured the School of Game Development on November 28, 2017, to discover how a new smartphone application called Tenderfeels will help make San Francisco’s renowned Tenderloin District safer for residents.

The Tenderfeels application uses AR to harvest real-time data from Tenderloin residents as they react through the app interface to their surroundings. Residents using Tenderfeels can report in real time how they feel on each block within the Tenderloin district. The emotions range from ‘angry’ and ‘disgusted’ to ‘joyful’ and ‘happy.’

Other Tenderfeels app users can see the results in real time and see why a resident marked an area with a certain emotion. The overarching goal is to harvest this data and provide it to schools and government organizations who can use it to identify problem areas, with a view toward solving the issues revealed.

AR and the Working Environment

The United States, along with numerous other economies, has suffered a severe drop in productivity growth over the last decade. In the United States, productivity growth averaged a meager half a percent per year between 2011 and 2016. Compare that to the three percent reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 1996 to 2005. Concurrently, available U.S. manufacturing jobs are quickly outpacing the supply of qualified candidates. A 2015 Deloitte study estimates 3.5 million manufacturing over the next decade, 2 million of which will go unfilled. One reason for this is a growing skill gap between job requirements and the available labor pool.

It has already been demonstrated that wearable augmented reality devices in the workplace deliver the right information at the right moment and in the ideal format. With instructions or directions directly in a worker’s line of sight, leaving their hands free to perform the work, the time needed to complete an operation is drastically reduced. No need to page through a printed manual or disengage from the work entirely to utilize another device or workstation.

Errors are also significantly reduced because the AR display provides necessary guidance overlaying the work, on demand. The worker just follows the instructions before their eyes step by step. Even training videos can be viewed, or remote video assistance with experts is available for real-time assistance.

Upskilling technologies, where humans and smart technology partner together, seriously augment a worker’s job performance abilities. The results are drastically improved performance, improved safety, and higher worker satisfaction. Wearable AR devices are now being used in manufacturing and industrial settings, where they boost productivity on an array of tasks the first time they’re used, even without prior training.

Possible Barriers to AR Usage

While the above examples are in use across the United States today, the use of AR in education and business is not yet widespread. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is cost. Wearable AR glasses for workers on the assembly line can range from between $900 to $3,000. Obviously, most businesses are not prepared to purchase dozens, even hundreds of sets in the near future. Of course, as development costs are met, production costs can be reduced, putting AR technology in the price range of more businesses.

Another current barrier to use is the necessary applications to run on AR equipment. Currently, few augmented reality programs exist that can be adapted across broad applications. Most apps would need to be created specifically for a particular company’s application. This also raises initial costs of procurement and implementation, which is why this technology is still out of reach of all but major companies.

Clearly, augmented reality offers benefits to our society as a whole. The examples shown above in education and business, as well as how many apps using AR are already available for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, indicate that AR technology is here to stay. Regardless of current barriers in cost and programming, AR is the current wave upon which society will usher in the next era of our futures. As always, education and business will lead the way, with other uses quickly springing up. These will combine over the next decade to make augmented reality just another part of our everyday reality.

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